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JUST LIKE OLD TIMES - A ‘machine’ trip to Toledo

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:12 PM

When I’m asked what is my favorite period of history, I usually reply that my favorite time is the early pioneer days when our area was first settled.

 My only reservation is that I would enjoy visiting for a day, but not to “live” in that era. We must remember that there was no air conditioning then and no hot showers!

In recent years, the advent of the automobile is most interesting to me as I read of the early attempts to cross the continent by auto and the casual manner in which early “drivers” handled their “machines.” Autos were almost universally called machines in the early 1900s, and I recall my grandparents using that term frequently.

One scary story I came across took place in March of 1916. J. E. Soisson of Norwalk and his daughter Cecile went to Toledo to buy a new Cadillac “eight,” which they planned to drive home. In 1916 no one had heard of snow plows and there was a heavy snow that day.

The Soissons arrived in Norwalk late in the evening, having been on the road for almost five hours. At times the drifting snow was so bad that one of them had to get out and locate the edge of the road to be sure they were on the road and not in the ditch. Everyone felt, though, that the trip was remarkable in that the “big eight” used only five gallons of gasoline on the trip! This would average about 12 miles per gallon.

Fuel was important, but hard to remember for some drivers. A prominent Norwalk man owned a fine auto at the same time that the Soissons bought their new Cadillac. He enjoyed driving around town and taking friends for a ride. One day a ride ended at East Main and Old State when the auto stopped and wouldn’t start.

The passenger was an official of the Lake Shore Electric Company and as they pondered the stalled auto an inter-urban car came along. A rope was attached and the auto was towed to Harry Bennett’s repair shop at 124 E. Main St. The driver anticipated days of down time, but Bennett quickly solved the problem. When he looked in the gas tank it was empty. Easy solution, but it probably spoiled the day for the auto owner!

In the summer of 1914, Mrs. Elaine Dennis Young, who lived at 55 W. Main St., drove her mother’s electric auto downtown and parked parallel in front of the Central Fruit store at 31 East Main. Her maid remained in the auto with one of the Young children, who leaned against the mechanism, which started the auto.

The auto started moving over the curb and toward the fruit store, where it smashed crates of fruit on the sidewalk and smashed the front windows. It was stopped by the post, where the large panes of glass join near the entry way. A crowd had gathered by the time Mrs. Young came out of a nearby store. She shut off the power, then got into the auto and backed it off the sidewalk and drove off.

Since her husband was a practicing attorney, no doubt the matter was settled and the damages were paid in short order. I found no notice that Mrs. Young was cited. There were very few written laws to be broken in 1914.

It was common in the early 1900s for young men to combine their talents and build their own autos. I’ve often wondered how long these machines survived. I doubt that very few, if any, of them, still survive.

One homemade auto was assembled by Percy Critz and Meredith Price in 1915, at the Frederick Machine Shop on North Foster Street. The vehicle’s power came from a one-cylinder motorcycle engine, with a motorcycle fuel tank for the gasoline. Belts were used in the transmission and a belt-idler as a clutch. This “auto” had bicycle tires for wheels.

It worked, for the newspaper reported that is was being tested on the city streets. I’d guess, though, that they didn’t drive it in winter!

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REMEMBER: My Just Like Old Times books can be purchased at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe, 7 W. Main St., in Uptown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in a permanent, fully-indexed format.

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